YOKOHAMA – The U.S. military has requested help from a local fire department in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, to investigate what caused Monday’s explosion at a U.S. military warehouse, Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa said.
The move came amid growing frustration from local government leaders over the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which prevents Japanese authorities from investigating incidents that take place within U.S. military compounds.
A series of explosions that erupted at around 12:45 a.m. on Monday destroyed the one-story 900-sq.-meter warehouse at U.S. Army’s Sagami Depot. No casualties have been reported.
“Even if we can manage to cope with incidents on a case-by-case basis, the basic problem will remain,” Kuroiwa said Wednesday, calling on the central government to establish rules to allow local government authorities to obtain information and enter the military compounds.
On Monday, Sagamihara Mayor Toshio Kayama told a news conference that he will ask the central government to revise SOFA so that Japanese authorities can investigate the case as well.
“I have heard that (Japanese) fire department officials can’t look into the incident within the (U.S. military) compound,” Kayama said. “Now that we’ve seen such an incident I want to urge the Defense Ministry to make revisions so that (Japan and the U.S.) can cooperate with each other.”
Under SOFA, Japanese authorities do not have the jurisdiction to investigate occurrences at U.S. military bases or facilities unless there is damage outside the facility.
“A single misstep could have been devastating,” he stressed. “I hope the (U.S. military forces) will determine the cause as quickly as possible. If there is danger or risks in the future, we need to urge them to make amendments.”
Metal pieces have been found scattered across a 200-meter radius of the gutted warehouse, leading local fire department officials to believe that the blast was caused after a large number of tanks of compressed gases stored there caught fire.
There were reportedly about 1,000 tanks stored in the warehouse.
U.S. Army officials said the fire went out on its own at around 7:10 a.m., about 6½ hours after the first explosion.
On Sunday in Washington, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Jeff Davis told a news conference the warehouse did not store ammunition or radiological materials.
Davis added that the facility contained tanks of compressed nitrogen, oxygen, chlorofluorocarbon gas and air for medical use or welding. He denied the possibility of a terrorist attack or any other deliberate cause.
The U.S. side has informed Sagamihara city that several units at the U.S. military are conducting an investigation but failed to elaborate further.
The incident occurred amid growing safety concerns among residents living near U.S. military bases, following an accident in which a U.S. Army helicopter crash-landed on a U.S. Navy ship off Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture, injuring its crew.